Any day now the Government will announce more changes to the Employment Relations Act, says CTU president Helen Kelly.
“These changes will drive down wages and undermine the conditions of all workers.”
Kelly says the law contains a range of attacks on workers but the two central ones are removing the duty to conclude bargaining and removing protections for new workers who won’t be offered a collective agreement in their first thirty days of work.
“Currently an employer can refuse to settle on an issue ( for example if they disagree with a wage claim), but they can’t walk away from bargaining on ideological grounds (i.e. not wanting a collective agreement at all). The new law will remove the obligation to conclude allowing instead for surface bargaining by employers who have no intention to settle. The law change in our view is likely to have a process to determine that that the bargaining has concluded (e.g. application to the Employment Court) even though settlement has not been reached.”
Collective Agreements currently continue for one year after expiry to allow time for negotiating a renewal, but only as long as the bargaining continues. This change will also allow the collective agreement to end in an untimely way leaving workers without coverage and probably will allow the employer to promote “take it or else” individual agreements.
“The second nasty little piece of new law will remove the protection for new workers who are offered the collective agreement (where one exists) for the first 30 days of employment – instead allowing them to be offered inferior conditions – isolating them from the union and putting at risk those on the collective as the numbers covered by it diminish.”
Helen Kelly says employers will use the new provisions, releasing them from the duty to conclude, to seek concessions such as who is covered by the agreement. They will seek to exclude new workers altogether as they will not be compelled to offer them the agreement.
“Far from promoting collective bargaining, as New Zealand’s international obligations require them to do, these law changes will again see workers effectively forced on to individual unilaterally determined contracts by the employer.”